How Unstable Work Is Damaging Millennial’s Mental Health

‘@Temp.com?’ The client threw his head back with laughter. ‘Bit of a crap email, isn’t it? Surely you deserve a name by now!’ He carried on howling as he waited for my response…but I couldn’t bring myself to smile.

I’d been temping at this company for four months, and in so many respects, I wasn’t a temp. I knew my team inside out by now. Right down to the minutia of how precisely they liked their coffee – Tess liked hers the colour of dirty sand, while Ed was your toffee fudge kind of guy – down to their signature moves on a night out – Denise was a twerker circa 9PM and Dan emulated Napoleon Dynamite jiving to Jamiroquai. The team and I would always have a laugh at work and conversation like a meandering river just flowed. But still, one massive elephant remained in the room: four months down the line, my work ID and email address were still branded ‘temp’. I was a faceless user – disposable and indistinguishable – one unworthy of a name. That’s the real problem with being a ‘temp’: it’s not unusual to feel like you’re all three things.

A new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Business in the Community revealed younger workers in part-time jobs are 43% more likely to experience mental health problems and poorer well-being than those in permanent and secure jobs. Meanwhile, if you’re a temp worker, you’re 29% more likely to struggle with poorer mental health than your peers in full-time, contracted employment. As someone who has been temping on and off for three years and struggled with mental health issues, I can totally relate.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re temping, in part-time work, freelancing or self-employed: the volatility of an unstable income, uncertain future and leading a life which lacks routine and control, can leave you feeling deflated, lost and stressed. Ultimately, it can make you feel like a failure. It really comes as no surprise that young workers, who think they are more than 50% likely to lose their job, are also twice as likely to experience mental health problems than those with a stable job. Speaking from personal experience, the fear that you just might not be good enough to get a job can begin to eat away at you – to point where you start believing it’s a self-truth and you become convinced you’re just not good enough at anything in life, period.

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Lower levels of concentration, sleep deprivation, low self-worth and self-esteem, heightened uncertainty, depression and anxiety are just some of the many ways unstable work can impact your well-being and mental health. This is made all the more disheartening by the irresistible urge to compare yourself to your peers in secure jobs: stable, together, going places…Although I, just like so many others, didn’t foresee I’d still be in this situation now.

I was fortunate enough to attend a Russell Group University and graduate with a 2:1 in English and Classical Literature. Having spent three of the most amazing years at Leeds University, I hoped to go far; I knew I was hard working, enthusiasm and positive. I naively thought my quest to becoming a writer would be more or less smooth sailing from here. But I don’t think anything could have prepared millennials like myself for how tough pursuing their chosen career path and securing a job would be.

IPPR’s report states young workers nowadays tend to be in jobs that they’re overqualified for, with young workers in non-professional or managerial jobs being twice as likely to graduate in 2014 than they were in 2004. Increasing competition and over-saturated job markets, coupled with a strained economy and immense political instability, have made it a bitch of a journey – to say the least. The figures speak for themselves: in the first three months of 2017, 2.7 million people were underemployed – 42% higher than in the first three months of 2002, when 1.9 million were underemployed. Economic pressures have clearly being felt by employers, as the number of 21-25 year olds in low-paid work has increased by 82% between 1990 and 2015. In many cases, this will have meant exploiting cheap labour and zero hour contracts. Sadly, feeling undervalued and being left without a secure network to fall back on, mentally takes its toll.

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All in all, this paints a pretty depressing picture and begs the real question we should all be asking: where do we go from here? IPPR’s report highlights there’s a clear correlation between our unstable, flexible job market and young people’s mental health. We can only hope the Government and employers will take note and start working together to promote better quality jobs.  By creating more benefits for those working under flexible practices and giving them more control (i.e. entitling workers to flexitime or working from home), this could help to empower employees. Meanwhile, developing progression schemes could prevent young workers from becoming trapped in low-skilled and low-paid work; instilling each with a greater sense of purpose and direction. However, it’s important to remember one thing – in theory, while these all sound great but until they’re put it into practice, they just remain romanticised ideas.

One of the report’s more encouraging findings revealed 16% of young people who experienced mental health problems in 2014 reported them; in comparison to 2004’s lower 13%. The increased number of disclosures is likely attributed to the stigma around mental health very gradually diminishing. While we still have far greater leaps of progress to make in this field, it’s promising to see things are moving in the right direction. Our voices are our weapons and our vehicles for change: the more we utilise them, the faster the Government and employers will be triggered into action. Because it doesn’t matter why you’re temping, or whether or not you know what you want to do later on in life; if we should be granted one certainty in life, it should be that our mental health and well-being always comes first.

Illustrations by Rachel Denti (from Everyday Thoughts on Everyday Things)

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